Tag Archives: Hailee Steinfeld

Barely Lethal (2015)

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I know, it sounds terrible, but Barely Lethal is actually barely passable comedy entertainment.

Hailee Steinfeld plays an orphan indoctrinated into a secret US government project to turn young girls into deadly assassins. The head of the project is of course none other than Samuel L Jackson

Following a mission against a dangerous criminal (played by Jessica Alba), Steinfeld’s character escapes to become a “normal” teenage girl and enrols in high school. And as you expected, awkward situations ensue before her past catches up with her and action scenes are added to the humour.

The film is as cliched as it sounds and isn’t original given we’ve already seen Hit Girl do the whole high school thing in Kick-Ass 2. Having said that, it knows it’s nothing special and embraces its mediocrity, resulting in carefree and relaxed peformances from the core cast.

There are some amusing pop culture references (given that the only high school world known to Steinfeld’s character are from movies and TV shows), a welcome big screen appearance by Game of Thrones‘ Sophie Turner (as a villain, no less), and a scene-stealing performance from Rob Huebel as the typical awkward father of Steinfeld’s love interest (played by Thomas Mann of Project X fame). And of course, there’s Sam Jackson doing what he does best.

A fairly forgettable, totally mediocre experience that’s not without some laughs.

2.75 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Pitch Perfect 2 (2015)

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I wasn’t as fanatical as most others, but I admit I quite liked the first Pitch Perfect. It was easy to like, with a soundtrack full of catchy, classic tunes, witty, irreverent humour and a brilliant cast led by the lovely Anna Kendrick and fan-favourite Aussie Rebel Wilson.

The film’s smashing success meant an inevitable sequel was forthcoming, and I remember thinking upon hearing it had been green-lit that the chances of Pitch Perfect 2 being as good as the original were zero.

And of course I was right. Notwithstanding that I really wanted to like it and despite it being perfectly acceptable fun, Pitch Perfect 2 was just a notch or two below its predecessor in every department. The “wow factor” of the A capella is mostly gone, the jokes are less funny, and the cast doesn’t have the same life to it, even with the addition of the talented Hailee Steinfeld.

Was it bad? No. Was it good? I suppose so. Ultimately, the reaction that best sums up my feelings about the movie is a shrug and  an “OK.” It was a sequel that didn’t have to be made but got made because of money, and everything about it reflected that. It has its moments, but by and large it’s exactly how you would expect a sequel like this to play out: bigger stage, higher stakes, new conflicts, and a dash of fresh blood.

Since winning the national title three years ago, the Bellas are now three-peat champs. The predictable fall from grace happens very early on, and from there the Bellas need to start over and aim higher at the same time by entering into an international competition where they are pitted against the best of the best, including a campy and nasty German juggernaut. The Bellas argue, they bond, they have relationship troubles and setbacks along the way, before eventually coming together for the finale.

This time the film is directed by Elizabeth Banks, who also reprises her role as commentator Gail alongside the legendary John Michael Higgins’ John Smith. Banks has a good eye and ear for comedy, and she infuses the film with a light mood and a sweet tone (pun intended), though there’s nothing particularly flashy about her execution.

Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson are still really good, but both are less funny than last time. In fact, everyone is just a little less funny than last time. There were lots of politically incorrect jokes — be it about race or nationality or fat people — which I ordinarily love, by the way, though for some reason it’s not as punchy and laugh-generating as it should have been. Maybe you just need to be in the right mood for the comedy to hit the same high notes.

Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed Pitch Perfect 2 as a whole relative to most other musicals or comedies. I guess it’s slightly better than I had expected but not as good as I desperately wanted it to be, even though I knew that would be the case.  Still, that means this formulaic, by-the-book sequel is probably good enough for its target market: fans of the original and audiences satisfied with some stylish singing and dancing, a bit of light humour, and familiar characters doing familiar things.

3 stars out of 5

Movie Review: 3 Days to Kill (2014)

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When I first saw the poster for Three Days to Kill, I was pretty certain that it would be a Taken ripoff with Kevin Costner as the Liam Neeson character and Amber Heard as his daughter. She gets kidnapped or something and he has three days to use his considerable abilities — ie, killing people — to get her back. I was wrong, but maybe it would have been better than what it turned out to be.

As it turned out, Three Days to Kill is very different to what I imagined. Kevin Costner is a CIA “lifer” sent into retirement due to dire health reasons and tries to rekindle his broken relationship with his estranged wife (Connie Nielsen) and daughter (Hailee Steinfeld), who are both living in France. So who the heck does Amber Heard play? A CIA assassin who coaxes Costner to complete one final mission in return for an “experimental drug” that could save his life. So the film is essentially a father-daughter bonding movie (they have three days to spend together, hence the title, but it’s also a pun because his mission is to kill someone — get it?). There are action sequences and all, but the heart of it is about a dying man doing his best to make it up to his family.

The screenplay is co-written by French master Luc Besson, and you do get a sense of his influence through the dialogue and the occasional use of humour. The director, on the other hand, is none other than McG, best known for the Charlie’s Angels films and Terminator Salvation, so in that respect you know expectations ought not to be so high. The technical aspects of it, including the action, are well executed, but the film falls way short in its desire to generate any genuine emotion from the family conflicts.

Kevin Costner, who has re-emerged as of late in supporting roles, does his best here as a poor man’s Liam Neeson. You can kind of see him as an ex-CIA killer, and you can definitely see him as an old, dying man whose prime left him a long time ago. Hailee Steinfeld, who was nominated for an Oscar for True Grit, is not bad either as the typical teenage daughter, but there’s not much we haven’t seen before from characters of this type.

The WTF award goes to Amber Heard. Seriously, it’s one of the weirdest roles I have ever seen. She is introduced as a serious CIA assassin in the very first scene, but for the entire movie she does — wait for it — absolutely nothing. She just stands and observes from a distance, showing up every now and then in tight outfits for no apparent reason other than to provide (sometimes unintentional) comic relief. I thought her job was to kill people — but then why is she getting Costner to do her job for her? And why does she have access to a test drug? None of it makes any sense.

In the end, I don’t really know what they were trying to do here. It’s commendable that there is an actual story here rather than just an attempt to rip off Taken, but having said that the father-daughter relationship by itself did not have enough substance or originality to keep the film afloat. The action was adequate but nothing special, and while the black humour and one liners were welcome it was fairly standard stuff from Luc Besson. It’s not terrible, and I did find some moments entertaining and fun, but at best 3 Days to Kill qualifies as no more than a solid DVD rental.

2.75 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Ender’s Game (2013)

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I’ve already put Orson Scott Card’s 1985 award-winning sci-fi novel on my reading list for the year, but I couldn’t help but watch the film adaptation of Ender’s Game in advance. Directed by Gavin Hood (the South African who won a Best Foreign Pic Oscar for Tsotsi and made the first Wolverine film), the film stars Hugo’s rapidly growing Asa Butterfield as the titular Ender, a kid chosen to lead a rebellion against an alien race in the 22nd century. Butterfield is backed up by a superb all-star cast led by Harrison Ford, Viola Davis, Ben Kingsley, Hailee Steinfeld and Abigail Breslin.

I’ll be upfront: Ender’s Game starts off as a really intriguing young adult sci-fi thriller that is fairly entertaining and bolstered by solid and creative special effects. But by the end of the film it felt like a wasted opportunity that barely scratched the surface of what it could have been. Not having read the book, I don’t know how much depth Card goes into in terms of exploring this fascinating future world, but the film version is riddled with unexplained mysteries and gaps that make you question the plot’s common sense and logic. It was as though most of the important background to the story was purposely omitted because it would have been too difficult to explain.

The basic premise is this: in 2086, an alien race attacks Earth but some brave military commander sacrifices himself and saves everyone. Fifty years later, the war is still raging and young Ender (Butterfield), who is constantly monitored along with the other kids through a device in their neck, is chosen by Colonel Graff (Ford) to join the International Fleet, where they train kids like him to fight in the war.

The majority of the film’s 114-minute running time takes place at the Battle School, where Ender learns new skills, strategies, and takes part in war games with his fellow recruits. There is a sense of excitement when all of this takes place because you don’t know what to expect, but what makes the viewing entertaining is Ender’s interactions with the other cadets, and seeing how he hones his natural abilities to rise from the crop to become a leader. Yes, it’s yet another one of those “chosen one” stories, but for the most part it was executed effectively.

Asa Butterfield, who I loved in Hugo, is excellent as Ender. He’s rail thin but you can believe his intelligence and toughness, though there is a strange sort of distance about his character (it feels almost psychopathic) that makes him difficult to really like. Harrison Ford is basically an old Han Solo, while Viola Davis is pretty underutilized as his sidekick. Hailee Steinfeld gets a decent chunk of screen time as a fellow cadet and potential love interest, but Abigail Breslin doesn’t get to do much as Ender’s earthbound sister.

The problem I had when watching Ender’s Game was the feeling that I didn’t understand the world Card had built in his book(s). We get hints of some kind of semi-post-apocalyptic world that is dominated by an autocratic government from some of the Earth scenes, but it wasn’t like they were living among the rubble of an annihilated planet. I was curious why the world had become what it became, and how it happened. And why were they recruiting kids to fight an alien war? We know there are still capable adults, and it is said that only “millions”, not “billions” perished in the initial battle. We don’t even know what the status of the war is, except that Earth is obviously still under some kind of threat.

The vagueness extends to the battle games the kids play to train themselves. It’s a visual spectacular, with teams in futuristic space suits shooting laser beams around an obstacle course of sorts in zero gravity conditions. But we have absolutely no idea what the rules are or even what they are doing, which reminded me, very randomly, of when Conan O’Brien tried to provide commentary at some international Wold of Warcraft competition.

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I understand it’s probably all too difficult to explain in a movie, but at least give us something other than the expressions of the actors to at least let us know if they’re winning or losing. And by the way, it’s not clear how any of their training helps them prepare for real battle, which appears to be fought strategically inside space ships anyway! Too much just didn’t make sense, especially the final climax of the movie, which was somewhat predictable but also inexplicably ludicrous (can’t say much more than that without spoilers).

Having said all that, Ender’s Game was still relatively enjoyable to watch as a popcorn flick, particular at the beginning. If you don’t think and just go for the ride along with all the big stars, you might even find it pretty cool. But the holes just kept adding up, and the more you think about it, the more the whole narrative just falls apart. Given that the film has been a box office bomb (barely made back its $110 million budget), it’s unlikely we’ll have the opportunity to understand more of the world depicted in the film in future entries.

3 stars out of 5

Ranking All 2011 Best Picture Nominees

Source: screenrant.com

Now that I’ve finally watched all 10 nominees for Best Picture for the 2011 Academy Awards, here is how I would rank them from 1 to 10.  Click on the movie title for full review.

10. Winter’s Bone

This was a film for indie film lovers and critics.  I thought it was a brilliant performance by Jennifer Lawrence (deserved nomination for Best Actress), a fantastic depiction of the life of ‘cookers’ and their families in rural USA, and had me on the edge of my seat with some frighteningly tense moments — but unfortunately it was my least enjoyed film out of the top 10.

9. The Kids Are All Right

A surprise hit in my books because I didn’t expect to enjoy this so much.  Loved Mark Ruffalo in this and thought it was very quirky, funny and strangely moving.  Not usually my type of film but this was a standout.

8. True Grit

The muttering aside, this was a terrific Western, powered by a star-making performance by Hailee Steinfeld (another deserved nomination, though should have been for Best Actress).  Can’t say it’s one of my favourite Coen Brothers’ movies (I have so many) but it’s another example of their unique style and versatility.

7. Black Swan

As expected, Natalie Portman took out the Best Actress gong, and just as well — she was awesome in this, the best I’ve ever seen her.  I went in having no idea that this was going to be such a trippy, horrific film that made me turn away so many times (especially when it comes to skin and nails).  Nothing like The Wrestler (companion piece) but almost just as good.

6. The King’s Speech

I know, I know.  This just won Best Picture, but it’s not even in my top 5.  Don’t get me wrong, I thought this was a phenomenal film, but it’s not my kind of film, or at least not as much as the other films on this list.  Colin Firth was definitely a deserving winner for Best Actor, and Geoffrey Rush a deserving nominee.  Helena Bonham Carter?  Not so much.  Surely there were other supporting actresses more worthy?

5. Toy Story 3

Can’t believe I ranked a cartoon higher than 5 other films on this list, but Toy Story 3 moved me in a way I didn’t expect.  The franchise has always been superb, but the third film might very well be the best of them all.

4. The Fighter

Being an avid boxing fan might have coloured my opinion a little, but The Fighter is one of the best boxing films ever.  It’s gritty, gut-wrenching and utterly compelling and anchored by 4 amazing performances (2 nominations, 2 wins).  There’s nothing quite like a triumphant true story.

3. 127 Hours

Another film I didn’t expect to enjoy so much.  Kudos to Danny Boyle and James Franco for bringing this incredible true story to life.  Even with that inevitability looming over every second, I never found the film boring or tedious.  This was an exciting, riveting, horrific, and ultimately inspirational film.

2. The Social Network

I was so disappointed that this didn’t win Best Picture, even though I knew the odds were slim because The King’s Speech really garnered momentum leading up to the Oscars.  As far as dramas and films with a genuine chance of winning Best Picture (hence ruling out my no. 1), The Social Network was the best of the lot.  In 10, or maybe even 5 years, The King’s Speech will still be regarded as an exceptional film, but The Social Network will be remembered as a classic and a defining film for this generation.  Just my opinion.

1. Inception

I knew this had no chance in hell of winning, so I was just pleased it got nominated.  But come on — Nolan not even getting nominated for Best Director and getting snubbed for Best Screenplay.  At least the technical awards it won were a bit of a consolation.  Whatever.  Inception was still the most enjoyable movie experience I had last year.

Movie Review: True Grit (2010)

They say remakes seldom better the original, but it’s hard to imagine the 1969 John Wayne classic (which I haven’t seen) being better than the new version from my favourite filmmaking duo.  True Grit is vintage Coen Brothers, more No Country For Old Men than The Big Lebowski but still funny and quirky.  And when it comes to dialogue, human interactions and suspense, few can compare with Joel and Ethan Coen.

Based on Charles Portis’s 1968 novel of the same name, this version of True Grit is supposedly truer to the original source.  It tells the story of young Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), a wise-beyond-her-years 14-year-old who seeks to avenge the death of her father by tracking down and killing Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin).  To do so, she seeks the assistance of Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), a merciless but drunk and out-of-shape Deputy US Marshal.  Tagging along for the ride is Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), who is chasing Chaney for an unrelated crime.

I’m not usually a fan of Westerns, but True Grit had me hooked from the beginning.  It moves with at a pace similar to No Country, which might be on the slow side for some, but whichever way you look at this film — whether it’s the screenplay, the performances or the direction — it’s top notch.  And all through out was that trademark Coen Brothers touch, that unexpected, random hilarity that I can never get enough of.

Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon were expectedly excellent (as were Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper in smaller roles), but it was the remarkable performance of young Hailee Steinfeld that carried the film from start to finish.  Good to see that she received an Oscar nomination, but how it was for Best Supporting Actress as opposed to Best Actress (considering she was in just about every scene) beats the hell out of me.

My only complaint was that it felt like the film needed subtitles at times because of the excessive mumbling (mostly by Jeff Bridges) which made the conversations difficult to follow.  But apart from that, an awesome experience.

4.25 stars out of 5